nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Archive for November 2012

writing a novel – re-purposing a church

with 10 comments

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So the poet has decided to write a novel…

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Title: unknown

Working Title: Saving the Landing Church

Setting: a writers’ retreat and an abandoned church

Characters: main character – a writer who operates a writers’ retreat

Plot: moving a church? (in part)

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Since the main character in my novel is a writer, it makes some sense that she would like to earn her living as a writer.  However, she has not yet published her first book, so there are no book deals or royalty cheques.  She turns to an occupation pursued by many talented writers, the education of other writers.

In my book, I want to establish a situation that could eventually lead to other books.   So, I have given my protagonist the dream of establishing a writer’s retreat.  Her idea is to hold writing workshops at this retreat, perhaps every weekend once she establishes herself.    She will be able to teach writing techniques at the retreat,  or hire other writers to carry out workshops.  She wants to sponsor reading events for the community, to encourage interest in local writers.  Now, all she needs is a place to carry out her plan.  She does a little research, selects a community where the artistic sentiment has established itself, and purchases a piece of land nearby.

detail of a larger drawing Jane Tims November 29, 2012

And then she sees the Landing Church, about to be abandoned by its congregation.  She falls in love with the church.  She re-imagines it as a perfect place to hold her writing retreat.  A serene, tranquil place for writers to think and write.  A place with good acoustics for readings.  A place 10 kilometers away.

Now, how is she going to get that lovely little church to her own property???

~

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 30, 2012 at 7:48 am

writing a novel – choosing a working title

with 12 comments

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So the poet has decided to write a novel…

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Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer

Plot: unknown

~

This is a first in my experience.  I have no working title for my book!

At the top of the first page of my text are the words ‘Chapter One’.  The file on my computer is called ‘Chapter One’.

Always, when I started a book in the past, I had the title firmly in my head, right from the start.  The title drove the book.  My previous books (not published, although I intend to dust them off someday) were called:

No Stone Unturned

Something the Sundial Said

How Her Garden Grew

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Today, it is harder than ever to select a book title.  I challenge you to think of a simple title and then type it into Google.  Probably it has been used before.  The authoritative source for book titles already in use, of course, is Books in Print ®   (www.booksinprint.com).

A working title is useful.  A good working title frames the book in your mind and keeps the central idea firmly planted.   So far, I have written 24,000 words toward my novel and somewhere in there, I am sure a working title can be found.  I could tentatively call my book ‘saving the abandoned church’.  It won’t do for the final title since it sounds a little like a ‘how to’ book.

There are several approaches for selecting a final title for a book.

Some people choose part of a quote from a literary work.  Favorites of mine are: Ring of Bright Water (Gavin Maxwell) from The Marriage of Psyche by Kathleen Raine; Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy) from Elegy in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray; The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (Agatha Christie) from The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) from To a Mouse by Robert Burns.

Thomas Hardy, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, 1967 Edition, Airmont Publishing Company, Inc.

Some titles are from an important central idea in the book.  Blue Castle (L. M. Montgomery) is the name for the main character’s dreamworld, and in the end, she manages to find her fantasy world in real life.  Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) is the name of a ‘first wife’,  whose memory haunts the protagonist (who is herself un-named).  The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) is a reference to the enduring music of the river environment where Rat and Mole have their adventures.

Daphne du Maurier, ‘Rebecca’, 1938, Pocket Books, of Canada, Ltd.

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Rachel Gardner, a literary agent, has some excellent advice on choosing a title for a book (http://www.rachellegardner.com/2010/03/how-to-title-your-book/).  She begins by asking a writer to identify the genre of the book and then suggests working with a list of verbs, nouns and other words associated with the book’s theme, setting or characters.

I will follow her advice and see what titles suggest themselves.  I will be sure to let you know when I have chosen a final title!!!

~

Copyright Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

November 28, 2012 at 7:02 am

writing a novel – wearing red shoes

with 10 comments

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So the poet has decided to write a novel…

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Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer (not a very successful writer) who spends a lot of time at some other creative endeavor, loves to wear red shoes

Plot: unknown

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Almost five years ago, I went shoe-shopping in Halifax.  This sounds OK until you realise I have only been shopping for shoes about eight times in my adult life (I’m 58).  I buy shoes to last – sensible, good leather, well stitched, usually Clarks but occasionally Naots.  I was started on this path by my Aunt who said I should only ever wear the most comfortable shoes available.  She often brought me a pair of Clarks after one of her visits to England.

Since those days, I only wear sensible, very comfortable shoes.  I also wear one pair of shoes for everything.  Since I retired in May, I have been wearing sneakers most often, but my leather shoes go with me to church, work, university classes, writing workshops, botany excursions, walks on the beach, everywhere.  Mud or hardwood floors, it’s all the same.  Friends have made fun of me for overwearing and outwearing my shoes.

At the shopping trip in Halifax, I bought a pair of sensible Naots and these have been my everyday shoes ever since.  But that day, I also fell in love with a pair of red leather Clarks.  They were a little tight, but I thought, they’ll stretch.  Five years later, they havn’t stretched because I’ve only worn them about three times.  They are too small.  My husband says I was a fool to buy a pair of shoes too small, even if they were a beautiful red.

So, if I can’t wear my beautiful red shoes, my main character in my book will wear them instead.

Red shoes.  A use of symbolism to support an underlying theme.  In the The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 film, Dorothy wore ‘ruby slippers’ to get back home, where she desperately wanted to be.  In the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1900, Dorothy actually wore silver shoes!

the passage in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where Dorothy gets her silver shoes

In Hans Christian Andersen’s rather macabre fairy tale The Red Shoes, an enchanted pair of red shoes causes a girl to dance to her doom.  Early in the fairy tale, she gets in trouble for obsessing over her red shoes while wearing them in church.  There is also a 1948 film, The Red Shoes, based on the fairy tale, about a ballet dancer who is torn between wanting to be a ballet dancer and wanting to be with her lover.

two books of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen

In my novel, my main character will want something desperately (not to get to Kansas, or to dance, or to be a dancer, but something important to her).  Her red shoes are a symbol of her willingness to face all sorts of consequences to achieve her goal.

~

Copyright   Jane Tims   2012

writing a novel – why couldn’t I invent a ‘character generator’?

with 5 comments

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So the poet has decided to write a novel…

~

Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer (not a very successful writer) who spends a lot of time at some other creative endeavor

Plot: unknown

~

Characters are the stuff of novels.  I am sure someone has written a novel without characters, but for me … no character, no action … no character, no growth …

The characters in my novel were not in my head before I started writing.  Once I knew a little about my setting, I began to write and the characters began to suggest themselves.

A lot of writers have said this to me.  Begin the story, and the characters and plot will start to unfold.  Stephen King says (in Chapter 4 of his book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, 2000): ‘Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.’   So, with not much more than an idea for the setting, I began to write.

My main character emerged as I started to write about the setting (the old abandoned church).  I like to write in the first person, so this character was immediately ‘I’.  But, of course, this does not mean my protagonist is ‘me’.

Before I had written three pages, I knew my main character, the ‘I’ in my book, wanted desperately to be a successful writer.  But she (still not ‘me’) was also noticing things in the setting that showed she was doing something else with most of her time.  Whether she admits this to herself or not in the book, it will be revealed to the reader.  Or perhaps a clue is contained within this post…

So, I have my main character.  But what about the other characters?  Why couldn’t there be a tool for writers called the ‘character generator’, a simple device a writer could use to build the basic characters.  Get the characters and the story writes itself, correct???

My ‘character generator’ would look a little like one of those oragami-type fortune-tellers we used to make in school.  A number was chosen, fingers flopped back and forth and some ‘secret’ was revealed.

My character generator would be similar, only it would tell the color of the character’s hair, perhaps if he or she was timid or brave, and what sort of work she or he would be good at… a very three-dimensional character… well, it’s a start…

So you think this idea is too ridiculous for words???  Did you know (I discovered this from reading Stephen King’s On Writing ), in the 1920s a writer named Edgar Wallace is credited with creating a Plot Wheel.  When a story-teller came to an impasse, all the writer had to do was consult the Plot Wheel to see what should happen next.  Once the wheel was spun, the writer could read the result… perhaps one result would be ‘heroine tied to railroad track’ or ‘heroine rescued’…  Since then, I suppose many computer-based plot generators are available.  I think I will discard my idea of a simple ‘character generator’.

So, now I have a main character who is a writer, but who spends most of her time in some other creative endeavor than writing.  Perhaps this is where her real talent lies, or perhaps it is a ‘diversionary activity’.  Perhaps she is just using this to avoid facing her fear of never becoming a successful writer.

You see, ‘I’ is not ‘me’.

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

writing a novel – getting started

with 6 comments

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So the poet has decided to write a novel…

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Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer (not a very successful writer)

Plot: unknown

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Before beginning my novel, one of the steps I have taken is to read several books on how to write a novel.  This is not because I believe a novel can be written if you just follow some rules.  I do want to think about how the novel is constructed and to hear what successful novelists say about their craft.

I have been reading various perspectives on writing the novel and I will talk here about three of these:

1. Stephen King, On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft  (Scribner, 2000).

Though I don’t usually seek after the horror genre in books, Stephen King has my admiration for his ability to take you ‘deep into story’.  I can’t think of another passage as well done as his description of the running topiary figures in The Shining (Doubleday, 1977), or his chilling account of a father trying to save his son from running into the road in Pet Sematary (Doubleday, 1983).  His book On Writing is, itself, highly readable, and contains excellent advice for a writer.  I’ll try to pay attention to his cautions about adverbs (she said resolutely) and about using the passive voice (the parishioners abandoned the church, not the church was abandoned by the parishioners).  He also says I have to ‘stand in the corner’ if I use the phrase ‘at this point in time’.

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2. Phyllis Whitney, ‘Guide To Fiction Writing’ (The Writer, Inc. Publishers, Boston, 1982).

Phyllis Whitney’s Thunder Heights (Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960) was among the first adult mystery novels I ever read and in my early twenties, I devoured her books.  I read her every chance I got, often while everyone thought I was studying.  The interesting thing about her Guide to Fiction Writing is how different writing is today.  The Guide suggests extensive planning of the novel, working out outline, plot, and characters in labelled sections of a binder.  I had to do this for my first book, since it nearly drove me wild trying to remember when such-and-such occurred and whether my character was wearing a pony-tail or not in the chapter before.   However, at this point in time [get in the corner, Jane], everything can now be put in a single computer file!  And blessings on Word and the ‘Find’ search feature.  The advice I have taken from Phyllis Whitney? –  do a detailed word sketch about each of your characters.  I have done this with my present cast of characters and I believe knowing how the characters will behave in various circumstances helps the story write itself.

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3. John Braine, ‘Writing a Novel’ (McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1974).

Although I have yet to read a novel by John Braine, I love his no-nonsense approach to giving advice.  He says not to write a novel if you are ‘married or permanently entangled’, and suggests a first novel ‘shouldn’t be written much before the age of thirty’.   Also, he absolutely advises against making the main character a writer.  Bad luck for me, I have decided my main character will be a writer, although not a particularly successful writer.  Braine does have advice I plan to take.  In particular, he presents the following sentence: ‘he got up, went downstairs, and hailed a taxi’ … he says, ‘test every sentence against it; if any has that same flat, dead quality, rewrite or cut it.’

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a born writer – a young girl, writing about her experience at the Falls, on any surface she could find – I snapped this photo at Athabasca Falls in Alberta in 2003

And so I am writing my novel with the best advice…  and now you know my main character is a writer… but what else will I have her be?

~

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 21, 2012 at 7:23 am

writing a novel – selecting a setting #1

with 13 comments

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So the poet has decided to write a novel.

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Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: evolving

Characters: unknown

Plot: unknown

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The setting was my first consideration as I started to think about this project.  After all, I am very interested in ideas about ‘place’   …   my blog is about occupying ‘place’ and the concept of the ‘niche’, the perfect space for living.

The books I love to read and re-read have a strong sense of place.  Consider the ‘Martha’s Vineyard Mystery’ series of books by Philip R. Craig.  One of the enjoyable aspects of this series of books is the setting on Martha’s Vineyard.  Book by book, the reader grows to know the various places where the action occurs.  The reader can also follow along on a map.  The island is a perfect place for a story to unfold since there is lots of diversity in the landscape and everyone loves the ocean!

Another series of books I love are the ‘Fran Varady Crime Novels’ by Ann Granger (Headline Book Publishing, London).  The setting for these books is London.  The series unfolds as Fran evolves from being a squatter in a condemmed house, to a respectable tenant in a flat with a small garden.  Place is a strong component of the books and the reader encounters various areas again and again, some dangerous, some spooky, and some as safe as home.

As I try to think of a setting for my book, I am remembering the old saw, ‘write what you know’.  So, there is no question, the setting for my book will be rural New Brunswick.

I want to create a fictional setting within the landscape I know so well.  I also want a setting with some diversity.  I want my readers to enjoy encountering the characters in their spaces in this novel, and perhaps in other books.  I want to include elements of place which can both inspire and invoke memory.

One of the places I want to include in my setting is an old church.  I have written before in my blog about the plight of abandoned churches (see the post ‘sacred spaces’ for September 14, 2011, under https://nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/sacred-spaces/).

Some of these abandoned churches fall into disrepair and gradually vanish from the landscape…

Some are maintained as historic sites or as useful buildings on private property…

Some are refurbished into homes…

or even businesses…

Don’t you agree, an abandoned church would be an ideal element of the setting for my book?

~

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

a poet … writing a novel

with 4 comments

As you may know, my manuscript of poetry on ‘growing and gathering’ local foods is completed (see the page ‘awards and accomplishments – completed my Creations project!!!,  November 1, 2012’ under ‘about’).

Now, I have about six months before I can begin the next poetry project I have planned.  I have to wait until spring because the new project also involves plants and uses of plants.  And, of course, spring and summer are the best time to pursue this subject.  In the meanwhile, during the fall and winter, I have decided to work on a different kind of writing project.  I want to try my hand at writing a novel.  I have written novels before (nothing published), so I have a little experience.

a stack of my Rough Books

I know how different writing a novel and writing poetry are, and yet there are similarities.  Both forms of writing are creative, both seek to use words well to convey ideas, both require vetting before a writerly audience, and both need the energy of the edit.  I also think both benefit from a little exposure before completion.  So I have decided to bring my novel-writing project to my blog.

When I worked on ‘growing and gathering’, I benefited greatly from being able to explore my ideas on-line.  I found both the writing practice, and your comments and ongoing readership, very helpful.

Since I want to publish the novel when I complete it, I will be careful to publish only a small percentage of the story on-line.  I also want to maintain suspense, so I will not reveal too much of the plot.  However, I will explore where some of the ideas for the book originate, a little about characterisation, and something about the process as the book evolves into being.

During this month, I have been taking a course called Writing Life Stories from a friend and writing coach, Deborah Carr (for her beautiful website ‘Nature of Words’ and information on taking her Writing Workshops, see http://www.natureofwords.com/ ).

Deborah has helped me to understand the basic ‘three’ of all stories… a story tells us:

1.  someone wants something

2.  how they reach for it

3.  the result

When I think about the story I want to tell, I will also follow this simple path…

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 16, 2012 at 7:53 am

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